Anthony Davis draws rave reviews from LeBron James, Lakers teammates after gutsy performance in Denver

It's hard to call the Lakers' 105-96 win over the Nuggets on Tuesday a statement game. The Lakers are a league-best 18-3. They have two of the best players in the world. Winning a game, even against a good team on the road, isn't a statement for guys like LeBron James and Anthony Davis

They have bigger goals in mind. 

That said, the Lakers have been cruising through an extremely soft schedule stretch. Prior to this win in Denver, the Lake Show hadn't beaten a current winning team since way back on Nov. 8, when they defeated Miami. Their recent 10-game win streak was bookended by losses to the Raptors and Mavericks

So coming out and beating the Nuggets, the No. 3 team in the Western Conference with a record of 13-5, on the road, is certainly worth noting -- particularly because the Lakers did it with multiple players experiencing flu-like symptoms. One of those players was Davis, who was sick in bed all day and had to get IV treatment at halftime. 

Somehow, Davis still managed to play 36 minutes at a mile-high altitude, posting 25 points and 10 rebounds while making timely defensive plays all over the court. His teammates noticed. From Bill Oram of The Athletic:

... as Davis headed to the bench for a timeout late in the Lakers' most impressive win to date, he had the energy to bellow, "First team All-Defense!"

Alex Caruso, who had just fouled out, corrected him.

"I was telling him, 'No,'" Caruso said. "'Player of the year.'"

Lakers coach Frank Vogel also chimed in:

"He's guarding their two best players," coach Frank Vogel said. "Jokic, single coverage, everybody's staying home. And Jamal Murray taking him to the basket and he's making defensive play after defensive play. He was outstanding. For him to play through illness and have that kind of performance was something special."

And LeBron James:

"He's been doing it all year," he said. "Playing through injuries, playing through illness like he did tonight. Defensive player of the year and he showed tonight once again playing one on one vs. Joker in the post. When there were switches going on with Jamal Murray, playing one-on-one versus a small. Got stop after stop after stop. Just a monster game for him."

But it was Rajon Rondo who gave Davis the highest praise, saying that right now he has Davis as both the league MVP and the Defensive Player of the Year. Again from Oram:

He's a super-elite player, if not the best player in the game right now as we speak. So I'm not surprised that he played well tonight."

Wait. Did Rondo just call Davis the best player in the game? Did he mean just defensively or …?

"I'd say overall," he said. "He demands a double team every night. He's shooting the 3 now. He makes plays for his teammates. A great leader, on and off the floor. I mean, I got him as MVP and Defensive Player of the Year."

Incidentally, our first MVP rankings of the season here at CBS Sports came out on Tuesday, and I didn't include Anthony Davis in the top five. Rondo clearly disagrees, but the numbers and eye test will tell you LeBron is the MVP of this team and is clearly the more likely candidate of the two to win the league-wide award. That could change, obviously, and games like this will help Davis' cause. But right now he's likely not an MVP front-runner. 

As for DPOY, that's a different story. I would put Davis right there with Rudy Gobert, Marcus Smart and Ben Simmons. The Lakers have been an elite defense all season, and Davis is the centerpiece around which it all revolves. On Tuesday, he was instrumental in holding Nikola Jokic to 13 points on 4-of-12 shooting (Jokic's lethargy this season is a whole other story); by guarding Jokic one on one, the Lakers' wing defenders could stay at home on shooters rather than having to double team. 

And he was a one-man brick wall at the rim:

Davis was leading the league in blocks entering Tuesday, and even when he's not actually swatting shots away, he's changing them, if not deterring them altogether. He can guard on the perimeter on switches. He communicates. He's been a defensive monster all season, and while the offense isn't quite at LeBron's level, it's obviously elite as well. Davis is no doubt one of the seven or eight best players in the league. Tuesday was just the latest example of his two-way dominance. 

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